Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing (ADOR) – the emirate’s entry in the Volvo Ocean Race (VOR) – finished Leg 6 of the epic race around the world in second place after 17 days at sea on the way from Itajaí in Brazil toNewport, Rhode Island on the USA’s east coast.
Ian Walker and the Abu Dhabi Ocean Racing crew celebrate after securing second place on Leg 6, giving them a 6-point lead in the overall standings with three Legs remaining.
The Abu Dhabi Tourism & Culture Authority (TCA Abu Dhabi)-backed team – led by double Olympic silver medallist Ian Walker – crossed the finish line off the VOR race village in Fort Adams State Park at 10:25 p.m. on May 6, three minutes and 25 seconds behind nearest overall rivals Dongfeng Race Team.
The result – the Abu Dhabi team’s sixth consecutive podium result in the race so far – sees it maintain its place at the top of the overall leaderboard by a margin of six points with three legs left to race before the finish in Gothenburg, Sweden at the end of June.
ADOR skipper Walker said the leg, which saw the fleet cross the equator for the fourth and final time on this edition of the race, and went down to the wire on the final day had thrown up a series of challenges that had left the final result in doubt until the final day.
“This is a fantastic result for us and really cements our overall position at the top of the leaderboard,” Walker said on the dock inNewport. “It was a tough leg and I think we have sailed better in this leg than any other one in the race so far.”
After drifting away from Itajaí in virtually no wind, ADOR took the lead early on the 5,010 nautical-mile leg and looked in a strong position to consolidate its advantage in the opening week. However, on Day 5, Azzam got trapped on the wrong side of a cloud line and missed out on the new breeze the rest of the fleet enjoyed.
This dumped the Abu Dhabi team from first to last, but Walker and his crew plotted their comeback and after five days of small incremental gains, Day 10 saw Azzam catapulted back into the lead after several hours of riding a thirty-knot squall line shortly after crossing the equator.
Entering the infamous Bermuda Triangle, and battling through seaweed from the nearby Sargasso Sea – a large area of the Atlantic Ocean encircled by several strong currents that deposit marine algae and other sea plants into its centre – which clogged the yachts’ rudders and keels, ADOR led the way to the northeast in trade winds around the edge of a light wind, high-pressure weather system blocking the direct route to the north.
Soon however, the breeze eased and began to turn clockwise, switching the crews into downwind running mode – a known speciality for ADOR’s closest overall rivals Dongfeng Race Team, who swept past into a commanding lead.
As the fleet closed in on the US coastline, however, the Abu Dhabi team was able to steadily claw back precious miles and by the final day was in striking range of the leader. According to UAE sailor Adil Khalid the crew was more nervous about a challenge from behind than trying to overtake.
“Finishing one place behind Dongfeng was the most important thing,” Khalid explained. “Getting a chance to challenge for the win at the end was a bonus. I spent the last couple of days just hoping that we could hold on to second. Now we take a six point overall lead into the final three legs.”
With the wind gradually dying in the final 20 miles, Walker and his navigator Simon Fisher tried every trick they knew to try to squeeze into the lead. In the end it wasn’t to be and Dongfeng skipper Charles Caudrelier steered the Chinese yacht across the finish line ofNewport’s Fort Adams in pitch darkness, a little under three and a half minutes ahead of Azzam.
“It would have been nice to come home with a win and we threw everything we could at them at the end to try to put them under pressure,” Fisher said. “Second is very solid result after what has been a tough leg at times. Overall I think we sailed well and stayed strong when things went against us.”
The ADOR sailors have less than a week ashore to recover before they are back to work to prepare for the Newport heat of the In-Port Race series and the start of Leg 7 to Lisbon in Portugal.